Monday, February 13, 2012

Are You Feeling Taken Advantage Of?

It's a nagging, uneasy feeling - when you feel like another person crossed a boundary and you feel used.  Sometimes these situations are hard to pinpoint, and you notice much later how you actually feel about it.  Other times it's immediately apparent.  A boss asks you to stay late for the third time in a week, a friend doesn't pay their share on a tab, a family member asks for repeated favors that start to take up much time and energy.  These are just a a few examples that may cause you to feel taken advantage of, and this in turn may cause anxiety, stress, anger, and resentment.

Often our needs and opinions will differ from another person's.  We can only guess what another person's intentions may be behind their requests or demands.  However, we can be in full control of how we respond to these requests.  Lots of people, especially women, struggle with assertiveness. Assertiveness is the very essential skill of communicating clearly with others, while respecting your own rights and feelings as well as the rights and feelings of others.  

What causes people to avoid being assertive?  Often it's for fear of displeasing others and of not being liked.  However, this leaves you vulnerable to being taken advantage of over and over again in the long run.  Acting assertively is not acting aggressively, passively, or passive-aggressively.  It means being direct, honest and open about your feelings, opinions, and needs.  It also means:

  • Stating reasonable requests directly and firmly.
  • Stating your goals and intentions in a direct and honest manner.
  • Stating your point of view without being hesitant or apologetic.  
  • Being able to say "no" without guilt to unreasonable requests.
  • Asking for help when you need it
  • Asking for clarification when you're confused.
  • Respectfully volunteering your opinions even when they're different from others.
  • Using assertive body language - face a person squarely, straight upper body, good eye contact, being calm but firm
  • Taking your time ("Let me think about that").
Here is a basic script for setting a boundary with someone, aka guidelines to saying "no" to a request.
  1. Acknowledge the person's request by repeating it.  This shows respect for the other person's rights and needs.
  2. Explain your reason for declining.
  3. Say no.
  4. (Optional) If appropriate, suggest an alternative proposal where both your and the other person's needs will be met.
An example:  Let's say another person asks you to help them move, but you have already made plans or have an important deadline.  You may respond: "I understand you need some help moving (acknowledgment).  I'd like to help out but I promised my boyfriend we would go away for the weekend (explanation), so I'm not going to be available (saying no).  I hope you can find someone else."    Again, assertiveness means being direct, honest, and respecting your own rights and needs as well as theirs.

For a latest follow-up post on assertiveness on my blog, click here.

Assertiveness is a very important subject affecting our lives every day.  It takes awareness and lots of practice.  It is hard to be assertive for many of us.  If you find yourself being passive, aggressive, or passive-aggressive instead of being assertive, and this is pervasive in several areas in your life, talking to a trained licensed professional, such as a psychologist, can help.  I offer assertiveness training in my practice, as well as the opportunity to explore what may make it difficult for you personally to be assertive.  Feel free to visit my website for more information.